Sports turf manager says mentoring his staff ranks as important aspect of his profession
By Mike Jiggens
Sports fields rank as John D’Ovidio’s most preferred greenspaces to maintain “because I love seeing the impact of the equipment on the field, especially the striping after mowing.”
The City of Mississauga, Ont.’s parks supervisor manages more than 70 employees, including 18 full-time staff, 18 temporary workers and 32 students during the peak season.
“During the growing season, I am constantly going from place to place, checking on the turf,” he said. “The most challenging part is the upkeep of the sports fields during peak season. The fields need to be playable every day beginning in May until the end of September. There are usually about three sports games per night, and weekends can be even more.”
Among the greenspaces under his direction are the city’s sports fields, city hall, destination parks, school fields, horticultural beds and playgrounds. Turf is a mix of kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass.
When Ontario became the first province in Canada to ban pesticide use in parks, lawns and sports fields, D’Ovidio resorted to adopting vigorous cultural practices to keep the turf safe and healthy enough to keep out pests and weeds.
Because of these challenges, he places a high value on staff knowledge of turf health.
“I see a big part of my job as being a mentor to the staff,” he said. “We often work alongside sports groups, planners, designers and consultants to determine what decisions will be the healthiest for the turf. I’ll also send front line staff to trade shows so they can stay up to date on turf health.”
Another instance in which D’Ovidio often plays the part of a mentor is with city groups and patrons.
“Many people have the misconception that grass just needs to be watered and cut. They don’t understand the intricacies of maintaining healthy turf.”
D’Ovidio, who was once employed in the architectural trade, said one of his main focuses within the city is city hall and Celebration Square. Once considered a ghost town, the city hall complex now entertains more than one million visitors per year. After $41 million in renovations, city hall has transformed into a venue for more than 100 events each year.
“In addition to maintaining the turf at city hall, I am also responsible for managing the synthetic turf area, the ice rink in the winter, the splash pad in the summer and the remaining Celebration Square area.”
The splash park converts to an ice rink during the winter.
Since city hall and Celebration Square is one of his high-profile areas, D’Ovidio has 19 people on his crew designated to keeping it in top shape. This work includes maintaining the turf, shrubs, trees and sanitation areas.
With more than 23,000 registrants using the sports fields every year, the turf has high visibility and needs to be healthy and playable at all times.
“When the staff completes their work, they feel great about the look of the turf. We’re able to pass that feeling down to the end users and get them excited about the condition of the turf. When this happens, it’s much easier for our sports programs to get more funding for turf maintenance because they see the value in it. We can then show them exactly where their money is going and the great results we get from it.”
High-end fields, are typically aerated once per month, unless weather or wear of the turf require demand more frequent attention.
The city has a fleet of 35 Jacobsen large-area rotary mowers it uses to maintain the majority of green space.
“We typically mow at about three inches once or twice per week on our secondary fields and three times per week on our premier fields,” D’Ovidio said.
“The rough mowers have been great for us. We’ve been able to cut a lot more grass in less time than we were cutting before. Their versatility has also been a huge bonus. The ability to lift up individual decks has given us the ability to work around trees and other tight areas.”